Road commission crews face higher road salt prices
GRAND TRAVERSE COUNTY, Mich. (WPBN/WGTU) -- Not only is it a busy time of year for road commission crews, it's shaping up to be expensive, too.
The cost of road salt has increased up to 60 percent for some counties.
Since 2013, the price for salt per ton has fluctuated somewhere between $40 and $75.
Michigan Department of Transportation says they don't make the prices, but as far as they understand it mostly comes down to supply and demand, as well as transportation.
"If we have a bad winter that requires a lot of salt then supplies are diminished and the demand for the main product goes up," says James Lake, Communications Representative for MDOT North Region. "Some locations in Michigan pay less per ton and some, such as those in the far western upper peninsula, might pay more because they have to pay to truck or ship the salt up that far."
While MDOT and County Road Commissions set a budget every year, they say the price of salt won't impact drivers.
"Since our fiscal year starts October 1, winter maintenance is our first priority with every new year budget," says Lake. "Safety is our priority and salt and winter maintenance overall are a part of that, so we will do whatever we have to to keep the roads as safe and clear as possible."
MDOT orders about 370,000 tons of salt statewide, so how long will that last? It depends on the type of winter mother nature delivers.
"Some winters are extremely cold and sometimes we get less snow than typical, so in those winters we might use less salt," says Lake. "Conversely, we may have a winter with warmer temperatures and freezing rain, and in that type of winter we might use more salt."
MDOT is in charge of clearing state highways including US-131, I-75, and M-37, but they contract with most county road commission crews in northern Michigan to keep them clear.
"Our priorities are the state highways because we contract with MDOT to do that," says Jim Cook, Grand Traverse County Road Commission Manager. "Next we plow the primaries and the secondaries, then the locals, then the subdivisions and gravel roads."
If you're wondering why they prioritize the roads that way Cook says, "the theory is, we'd rather have you stuck in your driveway than on the highway."
Over the years Grand Traverse County typically uses more sand than salt, which is good because sand is only $3 per ton, compared to salt which is around $70 per ton.
"If we saw an issue regarding our supply of salt or we were running low we may change our operations and change how we use salt, but generally at this point we have no plans to change anything," says Cook.
Both MDOT and road commission crews say if they did have to spend a lot on winter maintenance, it would ultimately just come out of the funds for summer projects.